Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Scene Case Study: The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 16:46 min

Aaron analyzes a classic scene from The West Wing: the scathing confrontation between President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin).

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Topics include: Bartlet and Ritchie's intention • Drawing on your own perspectives


The scene is this. Bartlet is in the middle of his reelection campaign. He's running for a second term. He's running against Robert Ritchie, the governor of Florida. The Republican nominee is played by James Brolin, and they're both in New York tonight. There is a benefit. I believe it's for a-- excuse my memory. I think for a Catholic charity, that the benefit was for. It's a performance of a Broadway play I made up. I invented a Broadway play that the Royal Shakespeare Company was doing called The Wars Of The Roses where they had put together a bunch of Shakespeare plays into one evening, and added songs, and things like that. Anyway, Bartlet is attending a Broadway show tonight, and uncomfortably enough, so is his opponent, Ritchie. And in the middle of the show, they both find themselves downstairs in the lounge near the restrooms. If you've ever been in a Broadway theater, you can picture what that looks like. And Bartlet has a lot of things on his mind. He's contemplating assassinating someone, and CJ Cregg's Secret Service agent, played by Mark Harmon, has been shot and killed just in the last hour. So, Bartlet's gone down there just for a private moment, and a moment later, Ritchie comes down there for the same thing. And there they are, the two candidates for president alone. No press, no staff. Presumably there's Secret Service nearby, but they're by themselves for the first time in their lives. [MUSIC PLAYING] Caught me. Mr. President. Governor. You enjoying the play? I am. How about you? Well, we just got here. We were at the Yankee game. We got, you know, hung up in traffic. Yeah, I know. Listen, politics aside, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but you probably insulted the Church, and you can head it off at the pass if you speak to the Cardinal tonight. Well, I didn't mean to insult anybody. No. And it's a baseball game. It's how ordinary Americans-- Yeah. No, I don't understand that. The center fielder for the Yankees is an accomplished classical guitarist. People who like baseball can't like books? Are you taking this personally? No. Something horrible happened about an hour ago. CJ Craig was getting threats so we put an agent on it. He's a good guy. He was on my detail for a while, and he was in Rosslyn. He walked into the middle of an armed robbery and was shot and killed after detaining one of the suspects. Oh. Crime? Boy, I don't know. We should have a great debate, Rob. We owe it to everyone. When I was running as a governor, I didn't know anything. I made them start Bartlet College in my dining room, two hours every morning on foreign affairs and the military. You could do that. How many different ways do you think you're going to find to call me dumb? I wasn't, Rob. But you've turned being unengage...

About the Instructor

Aaron Sorkin wrote his first movie on cocktail napkins. Those napkins turned into A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson. Now, the Academy Award-winning writer of The West Wing and The Social Network is teaching screenwriting. In this class, you’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you’ll write screenplays that capture your audience’s attention.

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Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.

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